NextPrevious

Vingt

Patently Wrong

Are the great inventions of the world...French?


At the unveiling of the new Airbus A380 in 2004, President Chirac startled the press by claiming that an obscure Frenchman, Clément Ader, had invented powered flight. When it comes to the great inventions of the world, French schools, universities and information websites like to rewrite history.


1. Who invented powered flight?


The French Claim... 

Clément Ader was a French engineer born in Muret, Haute Garonne. His first craze was for telephones (he invented the first – and probably only – stereo phone for listening to the opera). Using the studies of Louis Mouillard on the flight of birds, he constructed his first flying machine in 1886, the Éole powered by a steam engine. On 9 October, 1890, Ader attempted a flight and claimed a distance of approximately 50m before crashing. The French War Office became interested in his work and, with army money, Ader developed and constructed the Avion III, an enormous bat made of linen and wood with a 16-yard wingspan, Ader took the machine out on 14 October, 1897 and, before the military commission reviewing his work, wrecked it on take-off. The army withdrew funding but kept the results secret. After the Wright brothers made their flight, the commission released reports on Ader's flights, stating that they were successful. Ader is still considered “the father of flight” in France. In 1938, a postage stamp was issued to honour him while in 1990, and Airbus gave his name to one of its aircraft assembly sites in Toulouse.


The World Knows...

Bicycle mechanics, Orville and Wilbur Wright brothers grew up in Dayton, Ohio. They began their mechanical aeronautical experimentation in 1899, extending the technology of flight by concentrating on navigational control rather than lifting power. They developed the three-axis control still used today. The Wrights had a wind tunnel built by their employee, Charlie Taylor, and tested over two hundred different wing shapes. In 1900, they went to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to continue their aeronautical work, In 1903, they built the Wright Flyer – later the Flyer I – it had carved propellers and an engine built by Taylor in their bicycle shop. The propellers had an 80% efficiency rate. The engine was superior to manufactured ones, having a low weight-to-power ratio. On 17 December, 1903, the Wrights took to the air. The first flight, by Orville, of 39 meters (120 feet) in 12 seconds, was recorded in a famous photograph. In the fourth flight of the same day, Wilbur Wright flew 279 meters (852 ft) in 59 seconds. The flights were witnessed by four lifeguards and a boy from the village. The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper printed the story the next day.



2. Who invented the bicycle?


The French Claim... 

According to the French, the earliest bicycle was an unsteerable. wooden scooter-like contraption called a celerifere; it was invented about 1790 by Comte Mede de Sivrac of France. It was also known as the Dandy Horse. Most bicycle historians now believe that these unsteerable hobby-horses probably never existed, but were made up by Louis Baudry de Saunier, a 19th-century French bicycle historian.


The World Knows...

The bicycle has many fathers. The most likely originator is German Baron Karl von Drais, who rode his 1816 machine, the Draisienne, while collecting taxes from his tenants. It was essentially a pushbike, powered by the rider's feet against the ground. Scottish blacksmith Kirkpatrick Macmillan shares creator credit, for adding a treadle drive mechanism, in 1840, which enabled the rider to lift his feet off the ground.



3. Who invented the calculator?


The French Claim...

In the same way that most parents, knowing it will drive them crazy, try to keep their adolescent sons away from porn, the father of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) refused to allow his precocious son anywhere near a maths book. However, the little know-it-all would secretly study geometry under the bedclothes at night and, at the age of twelve, came up with Euclidian geometry by himself. He grew up to become France’s greatest mathematician, physicist, and religious bore. In 1642, the helpful child devised the Pascaline, a mechanical calculator to assist his father with his work (daddy was a tax-collector). By 1652 fifty prototypes had been produced before manufacture ceased due to lack of demand.


The World Knows...

German maths geek Wilhelm Schickard (1592-1635) of Tubingen, Germany, built his own – and the world’s first – automatic calculator in 1623, the year that Pascal was born. Contemporaries called it the Calculating Clock. Schickard’s letters to astronomer Johannes Kepler show how it was used to calculate astronomical tables, add and subtract six-digit numbers and indicate any overflow of capacity by dinging a little bell. The designs were lost until the twentieth century when a working replica was constructed in 1960.



4. Who invented the record player?


The French Claim...

The Lumière Brothers, Louis Jean and Auguste Marie Louis Nicholas, have always been presented by the French as the inventors of “cinema”, a claim that rests on their creation of the “cinematographic projector” which allowed the display of moving pictures. They patented a number of significant processes – most notably the creation of sprocket holes in the filmstrip as a means of getting the film through the camera and projector. They produced a single device that acted as both camera and projector, the cinématographe, which they patented on 13 February 1894. The first footage ever to be shot on the device was shot on 19 March 1895; the film was La sortie des usines Lumière (Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory). If anything, what they invented was that great French tradition, the dull social documentary.


The World Knows...

In 1889, William Friese-Greene developed the first "moving pictures" on celluloid film, exposing 20 feet of film at Hyde Park, London. George Eastman then improved on Friese-Greene’s paper roll film, substituting the paper with plastic. In 1891, Thomas Alva Edison patented the Kinetoscopic camera that took moving pictures on a strip of film. He also devised a method of displaying it when, also in 1891, he successfully demonstrated the Kinetoscope, which enabled one person at a time to view moving pictures. (The Lumière brothers reverse-engineered their own multi-person projection system after experimenting with Kinetoscope filmstrips retrieved from one of Edison’s French concessionaires). Later in 1896, Edison showed his improved Vitascope projector and it was the first commercially, successful projector in the US.



5. Who invented photography?


The French Claim...

In 1825 Nicéphore Niépce created a rudimentary photographic image on a polished pewter plate covered with a petroleum derivative. This process turned out to be a dead end and Niépce began experimenting with silver compounds based on earlier German discoveries. In 1833 he died of a stroke, leaving his notes to artist Jacques Daguerre, whom the French consider to be the “inventor of photography”. With no scientific background, Daguerre, discovered that by exposing the silver firstly to iodine vapour, before exposure to light, and then to mercury fumes after the photograph was taken, a latent image could be formed and made visible. By then bathing the plate in a salt bath the image could be fixed. In 1839 Daguerre announced his new process, calling it the Daguerreotype. 


The World Knows...

Across the English Channel, William Fox Talbot had also discovered his own means of fixing a silver process image. He made the earliest known surviving photographic negative on paper in the late summer of 1835, a small photogenic drawing of his home, Lacock Abbey (now in the photographic collection of the Science Museum at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television at Bradford, UK). This was four years before Daguerre’s process was announced. In January 1839, Talbot presented a paper on his discovery, which he called the “calotype process”, to the Royal Society in London. Unlike a Daguerreotype, a calotype negative can be used to reproduce positive prints. Later this process was refined by George Eastman and is today the basic technology used by chemical film cameras.



6. Who invented recorded sound?


The French Claim...

Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville certainly produced the Phonautographe, a device that made a visual image of sound waves on a resin cylinder. French scientists and historians certainly agree that it was the first instrument to record sound. However, it had no playback so how did they know? I have found a stick. I hold it in front of me while I sing “Toxic”. I claim the stick is recording my voice. I shall call it the Phonautostick. Kindly put my head on a €1 stamp. Exactly!


The World Knows...

In 1877, Thomas Edison, tireless inventor and the “wizard of Menlo Park”, unveiled the phonograph built expanding on the principles of the phonoautograph. This machine incorporated a cylinder covered with a soft material like tin foil, lead or wax on which a stylus drew grooves. The depth of the grooves corresponded to change in air pressure created by the sound. But he went one further. By tracing a needle through the groove and using mechanical amplification, the recording could be played back.



7. Who invented the smart card? 


The French Claim... 

The French are very proud that one of their own, Roland Moreno, a journalist turned inventor, has been loudly proclaimed as the inventor of the “smart –card” (the integrated circuit card). He patented his version of the card in 1974 and there are now three billion of the cards distributed worldwide.


The World Knows...

The industry generally recognises that that the smart card was originated by two German engineers, Jurgen Dethloff and Helmut Grottrupp in 1967. They filed for a patent in February 1969 but were only granted the patent in 1982 titled "Identifikanden/Identifikationsschalter". Independently, Kunitaka Arimura of the Arimura Technology Institute in Japan filed for a smart card patent in Japan in 1970. The following year, Paul Castrucci of IBM filed an American patent titled "Information Card".



8. Who identified the AIDS virus?


The French Claim... 

Luc Montagnier is a French virologist. His research was done at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. In 1984 he identified a virus he called LAV (later renamed HIV). Importantly, he was not able to prove that HIV caused the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Later Montagnier was to encounter international disdain (except in France) after declaring in 1990 that HIV cannot cause AIDS on its own but needed a cofactor which he believed is a mycoplasma. This has since been proved to be wrong.


The World Knows...

Robert C. Gallo is a US biomedical researcher. In 1984, he and his collaborators published a paper in the research journal Science arguing that HIV, a retrovirus that had recently been identified in AIDS patients by Montagnier at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France, was the sole cause of AIDS. Controversy followed as to which one discovered the virus. Today it is generally agreed that Montagnier's group was the first to isolate HIV but that Gallo's group identified its nature and function and demonstrated that it causes AIDS. Furthermore, the work of Montagnier had relied on a technique previously developed by Gallo for growing T cells in the laboratory. This technique became the basis for HIV testing of blood samples. 

Close

This is a web preview of the "50 Reasons to Hate the French" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App